Gibson Guitar: Could the Feds Seize your Guitar?

The Feds raided the facilities of the Gibson Guitar company August, 24, supposedly to enforce provisions of the Lacey Act. The act, which was updated in 2008 essentially says that anything that violates another country’s laws also violates U.S. laws.

The allegation here was that Gibson bought and used wood that was illegally harvested in India, and consequently, in violation of India’s laws.

“By prohibiting trafficking in wood illegally harvested overseas, the Lacey Act prohibits companies from undercutting law-abiding U.S. wood-product companies, including numerous small businesses, by trading in artificially inexpensive raw materials that have been illegally harvested from foreign forests,” the two federal officials wrote. “The Lacey Act provides the federal government with an important tool to ensure that all businesses, including foreign companies that send their goods into this country, are operating on a level playing field by using only legally harvested wood.” [1]

The problem with this argument is that the wood was not “harvested” illegally. The Indian law that was violated merely specified how and by whom the wood was further processed after it had been harvested.

“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India,” said Gibson in a press release on Thursday. [3]

So, are we at risk for prosecution or seizure?

The letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich and Christopher J. Mansour, director of legislative affairs at Interior, said those who “unknowingly possess” an instrument made from illegally imported materials don’t have a criminal problem. [2]

Notice that the wording was that they “don’t have a criminal problem.” It did not say that the government would not seize your guitar or other wood product. And also notice that environmental activists have also gotten into the fray.

Andrea Johnson, Forest Campaign Director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a research and advocacy group, said although the industry uses the rarest and most endangered species — including wood, ivory and mother of pearl — fears about instruments being seized are misguided.

“Let’s be very clear here: No one is coming to take your Les Paul guitar,” Johnson said. [2]

But, the Feds have already seized guitars from Gibson.  I’m not saying that the government will or will not seize our guitars, but I’m learning more and more to distrust the government.

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